In the United States, at any given moment, there are two million impaired drivers on the road. Thirty percent of people refuse to sit on a public toilet seat. Fifty percent read their horoscope regularly. I didn’t make any of those statistics up, but none of the pages I found them on cited any research surveys. Despite the questionability of almost every statistic we read on the Internet, they’re everywhere, and are usually taken too seriously.
A few recent stories on Splice Today have been debating two unnervingly popular statistics—one stating that women make significantly less than men, and the other that one in five women in college are sexually assaulted. I’ve heard different numeric versions of these two claims in political debates, on social media blurbs, and in impassioned conversations at coffee shops. Undoubtedly, some social justice warriors have said that most women in college are sexually assaulted, and some Young Republicans say that no women in college are sexually assaulted. Hillary Clinton has become a broken record about the gender wage gap, and I’d bet that Donald Trump disagrees.
As a woman in college, the “one in five” stat about college-aged women drives me nuts. Rallies and debates are held for the sole purpose of discussing how absolutely dreadful it is that “one in five women in this room will be sexually assaulted before they graduate.” “Sexually assaulted” is a relative term. The loudest voices are those who believe that sexual assault includes looking at a woman’s boobs for too long or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, that only rape is “real” sexual assault. Very few of these voices (or, more commonly, fingers on keyboards) do anything to aid women facing abuse. They simply say, over and over, that one in five women will be sexually assaulted. Stories are re-blogged and re-tweeted about how just last year one in five women were sexually assaulted at ______ University.
Two weeks ago I received some nasty catcalls from a guy at a bus stop on my campus. When I turned around while crossing the street to tell him to stop, he started screaming at me, “What’d you say, shawty? You think I’m fuckin’ playing? This is some real world shit. I will end you.” He then followed me to my front door, and stood screaming more insults and obscenities until I called the cops and they gave him a verbal slap on the wrist. Did I consider that sexual assault? Am I the one in five? I don’t know. What I gained from that experience is that women need to be taught how to react and protect themselves in threatening situations. My school offers a free women’s self defense course, and I’ve taken it, but it’s lost nearly all funding because of low attendance. Instead of talking about how so many women are sexually assaulted, we need to change the conversation to what we can do to stop it from happening. Trying to guilt people with “Go help women in Saudi” arguments isn’t making any improvements on any continent. Equality is a worldwide battle, and arguing about whether or not it’s worth fighting for is no better than being ignorant about the issue altogether.
—Follow Sarah Grace McCarthy on Twitter: @birdy_grace